Christmas Trees, Presidents, and Mass Shootings: Explaining Gun Purchases in the South and Non-South

Gun Sales during the Obama Presidency


This article explores the factors that influence gun purchases in the United States with particular attention to regional differences between the South and non-South. Methods. We use data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to conduct a time-series cross-sectional analysis of monthly firearm background checks, a proxy for gun purchases, in each state from January 1999 to May 2020. Results. Throughout the data series, average gun purchases in the South dwarf those in the non-South. Spikes in gun sales are positively associated with Democratic presidencies, Christmas holidays, mass shootings, and news coverage of mass shootings. Gun purchases have also spiked nationwide in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, though most notably in the South. Conclusion. Our findings speak to the powerful role fear plays in motivating gun purchases, the magnitude of political polarization in the United States, and the regional distinctiveness of the South.

Social Science Quarterly, 102(1)

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Keith E. Lee Jr.
Keith E. Lee Jr.
Associate Professor